Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Jamhuri Day

Yesterday was Jamhuri Day which celebrates Kenyan independence from the British in 1963.  My housemate Barbara's boss, Josephine, invited all of us over to have lunch with her family.  Josephine and her family live in Kangemi, the slum which surrounds my neighbourhood on three sides.  She is a local leader in the community and her husband's family has been there for generations.

Nancy, another of Barbara's colleagues, stirs the rabbit.
We arrived around 1pm as the cooking was underway and were greeted with bottles of soda (and realised I could count on one hand the number of sodas I've had since I arrived in Kenya). Much had been prepared in advance, but I went outside to see if I could help (I was not surprised to be told no) and watch Josephine and her friend Nancy finish preparing the salad and the rabbit (yes, rabbit).  I learned through this that there are two types of lemons in Kenya - green (which I often see) and yellow(ish).  The green are better for cooking with and yellow better to use fresh.  Who knew? Lemonade anyone??
Barbara and Josephine

Lunch was soon ready which included typical Kenyan dishes of chapati, irio (mashed potatoes, peas and corn), rice, chicken and vegetables.  There was also rabbit on offer (the first time I've seen it in Kenya).  Lunch was great and we all had seconds.  The TV was on in the background during lunch and we caught snippets of the national celebration taking place at a stadium in Nairobi which included dancing, some rather interesting dramatic interpretations of Olympic running and a speech by President Kibaki which I couldn't tell if it was in English or Kiswahili.


Following lunch Josephine took us on a tour of her house and grounds, which ended up a tour of her local area and tea (and a reggae boogie) at a niece's house.  We saw a row of shacks which her family lets out to other families, a small cemetery in the garden where her in-laws are buried, and a lot of children (who thought it was funny that 3 wazungu were walking down their road).  Just a note that it's actually not usually ok to photograph people you don't know in Kenya, whether children or adults. There is a myth that Westerners are making money off the photographs being taken and therefore one can cause considerable insult or get into a sticky situation taking photographs at the wrong place or time.  As Josephine knew all the people on our tour, she gave us specific permission to take pictures - which I am happy to share with you.

This is a row of 4 separate family houses.
We felt a little like the Pied Piperettes. 

Josephine's nephew shows us what to do with corn.
Kangemi borders our neighbourhood.  You can see and hear it from our front porch.  I go there once a week to buy my fruit and veg.  But after spending 5 hours there yesterday I was left confused by the gap between the wealthy and the very poor in Nairobi.  10 minute bus ride away and I can be at a shopping centre, cocktail bar, or restaurant that rivals any in London.  There are many middle-class children who live on my street who are daily out ide playing with their bikes and toys, yet less than a 10 minute walk away are children with no shoes who literally play with small bags of rubbish - empty wrappers or cans.  I wonder about the kids on my street and what their perception of the kids in Kangemi is.  As they grow up, how are the kids on my street coming to understand the world and the city they live in?  I find it difficult to get my head around.

We came back from our wander and had a final glass of wine and brownie (both our gifts to our hosts) and made our way out into the yard for a group photo (which ended up as 20 group photos to ensure we had the possible group combinations!)  We were also very kindly invited to Josephine's son's wedding in February which we are already looking forward too!

Saturday, 10 December 2011


I thought as my last post was heavily about work (which is going great by the way - the SWOT analysis and recommendations for the Resource Mobilisation Team were extremely well received by the CEO and HR Manager and I have already begun acting on them), I would write a quick post (as am about to head out the door) about the domestics of living in Nairobi.

In terms of shopping, there are three main supermarket chains in Nairobi - all of which have branches near where I work so they are very convenient to access.  Supermarkets stock everything food related as well as appliances, dishes/cutlery, linens, household goods, hardware, stationary, and often clothes and books.  They are very much a one-stop-shop.  Food can be relatively expensive - particularly "western" foods such as pasta sauce and cheese - but I am slowly learning how to shop smarter using local foods.  For produce we walk into the local slum, Kangemi, where there is a large produce market where all sorts of vegetables and fruits (as well as live chickens)  can be purchased inexpensively.  The photo above is our pantry after a trip to the market.  I generally try to cook two or three times a week to have enough food to last for dinners and lunches for a few days.  There is often no power in the evenings which, despite having a gas stove, makes cooking difficult.

The other main domestic task is washing clothes - which is done entirely by hand.  I have discovered there is a learning curve to this as after my first (somewhat corner cutting) attempt my clothes were not exactly clean.  Strangely, the more work you put in - the cleaner your clothes get!  This is definitely my least favourite thing about my experience here so far - but at least I am developing strong arms and a strong back in the process!  (Although my hands are a mess!).  My housemates and I have decided to cheat a bit and every two weeks we have a local woman come to wash our bedsheets.

As we live in a big house we have also decided to employ someone to clean our common areas every week, a lovely woman named Beatrice comes and makes our floors shine!

In terms of other domestics - Monday is the Kenyan Independence Day and my housemates and I have been invited over to a local family's house for lunch and Andrea and I will be attempting to bake brownies to bring with our tiny easy-bakesque oven.  Watch this space!!

Monday, 5 December 2011

What I've been working on

I have just started my fourth week with I Choose Life (ICL) and I cannot tell you where the past 3 weeks have gone.  They are a blur.  It feels as though I have just started and have been there a year all at the same time.  I am mostly settled into my work, although there is still a bit of work for the CEO and I to do around my objectives which will take place on Wednesday this week.

Some of my colleagues during the fortnightly Manager's Meeting.  My first experience of this meeting was 6 hours - although this particular meeting was 5 hours.
I'm working on a couple pieces of work at the moment, but quite a bit of the past few weeks has been spent on conducting an audit of what has happened in the area of Resource Mobilisation over the past 12 months and meeting individually with the 6 members of the Resource Mobilisation Team to ask them a series of questions in order to gain a better understanding of how the team works.  The products of both have been interesting - although perhaps not unsurprising.  It appears that there is very little joined up fundraising work currently taking place, there are lots of knowledge gaps with regards to funders and where responsibility for various aspects of contract management sit, and the volume and quality of fundraising work which has taken place was far less than I had initially thought.  All this information has been very valuable, and after discussing these with the CEO (who agreed fully with the findings) I have been able to use this in creating my 2012 workplan as well as the first draft of my VSO placement objectives (the key things I and ICL agree should be complete by the time I finish).

From left: Yegon (the IT guru), Mike (the founder and CEO of ICL), and Pascal (one of the Project Managers).
The feedback from my individual meetings with the Resource Mobilisation Team members was also not necessarily surprising, but was very telling.  It is a relatively new team, the product of a somewhat hasty restructure through which the current team members were assigned to the department without necessarily having any interest, experience or skills in the area (only one reported they were happy to be on the team).  The team members currently spend their time researching potentisl bids and developing Concept Notes (similar to an Expression of Interest), but do not at present work on full proposals - which is currently done primarily by the CEO and Programmes Coordinator.  And even their research skills need support as there are cases of applying for funding which the organisation was clearly not eligible for. Numerous yet similar concerns were expressed from the team members about the structure of the department and I realised the full extent to which I have my work cut out for me if I intend to leave ICL in a year and a half with an operational Resource Mobilisation Department.  

My colleague June and I.
After thinking quite a lot on what the best way to present my findings from the team interviews to the CEO and HR manager would be, I settled on a conventional SWOT analysis template (thank you Francis Cooper and Cass Business School) for the reason that it would enable me to present the feedback in categories (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) without putting too much of my own interpretation on it.  The recommendations I divided into short, medium and long term and included the outcomes I hope to be achieved through each of the actions.  The short term recommendations include actions such as the team members meeting monthly with me and changing their job roles to specifically include proposal development and writing (which they unanimously requested), and long term recommendation is to recruit a Resource Mobilisation Officer in October next year to begin a 6 month training up and handover with myself (a key action in order for my work to be sustainable through skill sharing - which is the VSO model).

Wambui (Finance Manager) and Sarah on a much needed lunch break in the sun.

This is all work in progress, but I am optimistic about the work I will be and am already doing at I Choose Life.  The Resource Mobilisation Team is great (sadly no pictures of them here - but will in future) and several are extremely eager to learn.  The organisation is an exciting place to be at the moment as it is in a period of evolution, currently diversifying into support for civil society in the areas of leadership and governance and is positioning itself to play a role in ensuring that citizens are making informed choices in the upcoming elections and holding their leaders to account - which is very exciting work (and about which I will write more in future).  All in all a good start to week 4.